Tricky warfare

The emergency evacuation by helicopter was not a medical mission but part of a larger operation in psychological warfare. This would allow Hezbollah to have an achievement, allowing it to back down.

A screenshot of a Al-Manar video of a Hezbollah strike toward Israel (photo credit: screenshot)
A screenshot of a Al-Manar video of a Hezbollah strike toward Israel
(photo credit: screenshot)
Something new and unusual happened on Israel’s northern front on Sunday. Following a very real incident in which Hezbollah fired several anti-tank missiles toward an IDF base and military vehicles, an Israeli Air Force helicopter appeared to evacuate wounded soldiers to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.
Social media was quickly full of images and videos of the emergency medical evacuation as parents of soldiers serving in the North were on edge, waiting to hear the worst. But within a short period of time, long enough for the rumors to take wing and definitely be picked up by Israel’s enemies, the IDF Spokesperson’s Office stated categorically that there were no IDF casualties. This was followed by the hospital issuing a statement saying that, “Soldiers who arrived by helicopter were examined in the Rambam emergency room and released without medical treatment.”
The emergency evacuation by helicopter was not a medical mission but part of a larger operation in psychological warfare. It now seems that the IDF wanted to create the impression that there were seriously wounded soldiers in order to give Hezbollah a success story to vaunt. The terrorist organization wanted to achieve some kind of hit that would allow it to say it had avenged the attacks attributed to Israel in Beirut, Syria and elsewhere in the last week and a half. The Israeli soldiers – apparently so badly wounded they were taken to hospital in Haifa by helicopter rather than by military ambulance to a closer medical center – would be Hezbollah’s “achievement” and allow it to back down and prevent the escalation becoming a full-blown war in the North.
The ruse seemed to work. Within a couple of hours, the country went from being on the brink of war to being tense but quiet.
The subterfuge on Sunday followed reports last week that the IDF had placed mannequins in some military vehicles along the northern border to act as decoys. On high alert for more than a week, the military was readying for some kind of serious response by Hezbollah, with the blessing of its Iranian sponsor. Israel proved to be one step ahead of the terrorist organization, and it likely helped prevent a major clash in the North.
Had the story remained hidden or much more ambiguous, then both Israel and Hezbollah could have dropped the issue. But since the ruse has been prominently published, it is possible that Hezbollah is still looking for a way to hit Israel – or perhaps Israeli and Jewish targets abroad – to avenge Israel’s previous successful strikes.
In an age of social media, it is obviously much harder to keep a secret. And this is particularly true in a close-knit society such as Israel’s. People would have wanted to know the names of the seriously wounded soldiers to pray for them; we would have expected the families to be interviewed and hear the stories of “our boys.”
More than one pundit speculated that the “loose lips” in which the decoy maneuver was uncovered, and even bragged about within a couple of hours, was made worse because of the elections on the horizon. Politicians wanted to score a success and to be seen scoring it.
In all countries, military and intelligence forces use subterfuge and deception, and Israel does it better than most. The move was typical Israeli chutzpah mixed with luck. The aim was not to humiliate Hezbollah but to distract it.
The “injured soldiers” tactic worked well as a tactic, but it probably can only be used once. It defused the situation when it was most in danger of escalating. That is something completely different from having a strategy: a long-range vision of what should be done and how to achieve it.
No one wants a broader war. Hezbollah knows that the Lebanese government to which it belongs, and the greater public – especially ahead of the major Shi’ite Ashura holiday next week – do not want war. Israel also does not want war, but it can’t afford to have Iran, via Hezbollah, building and stockpiling precision-guided missiles.
We congratulate the IDF on carrying out a successful mission but call on the government to set out a strategy.
Relying on luck and diversions is no alternative to having a strategic plan.